One of the things you’re working towards when you move a trailer out to a piece of property is the inspection that gets you the Certificate of Occupancy. When you get to that point, everything else is done. The septic tank is in, your well is dug, and the trailer is set up the way the building code says it needs to be. Pass the inspection, you get the certificate and you can move in. Fail it and you’ve got more work to do on one aspect or another.
To make a long story short, our inspection was last Thursday, and I arrived out there after working the morning part of my split-shift to find the Certificate of Occupancy stuck in the backdoor. All we needed was the power hookup, and we were supposed to have that within 1-2 days of getting the company a copy of the certificate. So I drove the certificate out to the company office where they made their copy, and then we sat back to plan our first night in the new place which we had set for this past Sunday.
If you haven’t guessed by now, it hasn’t been quite that straightforward. Turns out there’s this thing called a “You Can Dig Locator,” which has to be done before they can hook up underground power. (It’s not needed for just connecting aerial wires, but we didn’t know that earlier when it might have been useful.) Once that’s called in, they legally have to wait 3 business days before they can dig, and the day it’s called in apparently doesn’t count. We thought this had already been done, and apparently so had customer service at the power company. In reality, we passed inspection last Thursday and the Locator wasn’t called in until the next morning. The bottom line is that it’s now been 10 days since we passed inspection and we’re still not living up there. (Although we did get to move our stuff in!)
The point to this is not to rant or just use the Internet as a place to vent and criticize this whole process. There are a lot of people working very hard to get us to the point where we’re actually living up there, and we’re grateful for everything they do. The point is to say that we all have those moments in life where something that we really hoped would happen, well, didn’t. Either it didn’t happen the way that we wanted it to, or it didn’t happen when we hoped it would, or in the worst case, it didn’t happen at all. More often than not there’s no real reason for it, either. Things just don’t come together the way we hoped they would. What’s made it difficult for us going through this process is that we’re new to all this. We understood the steps in the process before we started (or at least we thought we did), but what we didn’t know is that each step has its own collection of sub-steps, each of which has its own little difficulties and each of which has to be successfully addressed before moving on to the next. It’s been a case of “just one more thing” more times than I’d honestly care to count.
What do you do with those moments? I know from experience how easy it is to just lose heart, to say, “The hell with it.” It’s not that I don’t want it to happen, it’s just that it’s easy to think that it won’t actually happen, or that it won’t happen as soon as I want it to, or that it won’t happen the way that I want it to, and in believing any of those it’s easy to just stop hoping for it altogether.
In his Second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul spends a lot of time discussing his work with them. This is perhaps the congregation for Paul, the one that gave him more headaches than any other. One of the issues Paul had to face here was so-called “super-apostles,” leaders who seemed to be genuine but who were more interested in using those in the city of Corinth for their own ends. (Think everything that’s true of the worst of the worst of televangelists.) Paul thus spends a lot of time in his letters to this congregation defending his own work and the reasons why he does what he does. After laying out in 2 Corinthians 3 just what it is he’s up to as a minister, and the reasons why, in 2 Corinthians 4 he talks about why he doesn’t give up. The interesting thing for our purposes here is that he twice uses a Greek phrase which different translations have either as “we faint not” or, oddly enough, as “we do not lose heart.” The first is in 2 Cor. 4:1 and the second is in 2 Cor. 4:16. Speaking not just as a Christian but also as a man and husband with responsibilities and who has to face the drama of daily living, if this guy knows the secret of how not to do what I spoke of earlier, I’m all ears.
There are two elements to this that shed light on what Paul is getting at, but first I want to know what sort of man we’re dealing with here. Has he led an easy life or a hard one? If it’s been easy for him, and there’s reason to think he’s full of it here, I’m not interested. Later on in this same letter, however, we get a glimpse at his story in his own words. In 2 Cor 11:24-28, he tell us, “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness – besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.” Being stoned or shipwrecked alone would be enough for me to seriously question what I had been called to do, but not Paul. In his own words, he does not “lose heart.”
And in case you’re thinking he made most of that up, the particulars missing here are largely filled out in the Book of Acts, written by Luke, who was one of Paul’s travelling companions through much of what was described in the above passage. If then Paul knows what he’s talking about, what was he getting at? How did he not lose heart?
The first question that we have to answer is what exactly Paul meant when he said that. The Greek phrase from which we get “do not lose heart” or “faint not” has as its meaning “to lose courage” or “to fail to try,” with the general sense being that if you don’t lose heart then you’re willing to try again (you have the courage to try again) even if it didn’t work out like you wanted the first time. In my case, for example, it’s a matter of still being willing to hope that we’ll be in our place soon even when things come up that may push that date off somewhat.
How does Paul do that? It ultimately comes down to what he knows to be true even if he can’t exactly see it at that particular moment. In 2 Cor. 4:16-18, he says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” His outward circumstances, his “outward man,” may really suck, but inwardly it’s a different story. There is far more going on around us than we are sometimes aware of (the goodness of God being a great example), but that doesn’t make those things any less important. In fact, as Paul says, it makes them more so. It is partly through choosing to focus on these things that Paul is able to not lose heart.
You’ll notice I said it is only partly through this choice he talks about. What I’m getting at is not a case of “suck it up and deal with it.” I’m not advising that we simply put on a fake smile and act like everything’s normal even when we’re dying inside. There is more than enough sorrow and frustration in this world to break your heart on a daily basis, and you only compound the damage if you refuse to even acknowledge it. No, there is more to Paul’s secret, so to speak, than what we’ve looked at so far.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” The “treasure” alluded to here is described in the previous verse as “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” which in a nutshell is the relationship we can have with Jesus made possible through His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. What’s really important here is the phrase “earthen vessels.” Growing up in the church, that’s one I’ve heard many times before. As it’s usually explained, it symbolically describes how we as humans are frail and prone to breaking. For the purposes of this post, I had a look at the phrase in the original Greek, and what it literally describes is a piece of pottery. If you’ve ever had a clay pot for your garden, or hell, a plate, then you’ll get the idea. Pottery, as strong as it may be, breaks if you push it to far (or, as I’m sure we’ve all found out, if you drop it). And therein lies the other part, the main part, of how Paul is able to not lose heart.
If you drop a plate and it breaks, you don’t curse the plate, right? You may curse yourself for dropping it, but you don’t blame the plate. That’s just what a plate does when you drop it. Due to what a plate, or other piece of pottery, is made out of, drop it and it will usually break. As humans, we’re the same way. Stretch us too thin or push us too far and we break. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Whether we’re talking emotional breakage or physical, it’s all a part of who we are. Given the right circumstances, we break or we shatter. It’s a reality of being human.
Look back at that passage one more time. Paul says we have this treasure in the breakable bodies that we do so “that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” That’s the source of Paul’s ability to not lose heart. We can’t do this life alone, and Paul doesn’t try to. It’s that relationship, and the power that comes from it, which renews him inwardly even as his whole world goes to hell.
Whether you’re reading this and you’re a Christian or not, I would put to you that we are not meant to do this life alone. We break, remember? And we need someone there to pick up the pieces, even if, no especially if, we have no one else to turn to. Trusting Jesus like this is not easy even for me as a minister, and it’s not something I’m able to do all the time or even consistently sometimes for that matter. It’s can be damn hard to give up control, especially when it’s something that I long for so much like my wife and I having a place of our own. What I do know is that it’s worth it. Are you willing to trust Him?